Friday, March 13, 2015

Losing the art of nuanced debates...

The following article was written for Niti Central. Pasting it below for reference:

“..the statements of RSS leaders and Hindutva extremists are amplified many times over during the periods the BJP is in power.”
Wait, this is not some random tweet by a random tweeter, or worse by a “Hindutva extremist”. This is an extract from an editorial of The Hindu – written last week – trying to decode just one line from a 70 minute speech of the Prime Minister (that was laced with so many relevant details). This one line suited their campaign so far, and therefore it was picked up for an editorial topic. All other topics that the Prime Minister covered were relegated to minor news items.
Separately, on another day, we had the Editor of the IE say this:
Week’s most imp story shdn’t be buried in noise. High Court confirms conviction, sentencing of Chautalas in Haryana job scam"
Notice the usage of the word "noise". This is coming from a person who frequents TV studios every night.
And then the biggest story of this week on TV news channels – the ban on that BBC documentary. Everywhere we are being lectured that this documentary shows a “mirror” to the society and therefore we are all afraid to view it.
When the Prime Minister showed us the mirror, not once, but twice
Swacch Bharat: The call for Swacch Bharat from the ramparts of the Red Fort showed a mirror to all of us – that we are pathetic when it comes to maintaining hygiene. It is such a poor reflection of our mentality that it took a Prime Minister to remind us of our aversion to maintaining hygiene in the country nearly 70 years after Independence. We revel in throwing waste and spitting on the roads; our governments can’t spend money to buy a decent vehicle that can transport all this waste (many a time, open top vehicles travelling at 40kmph, with waste flying around!); we don’t like people lecturing us on basic hygiene.
In this background, what does the Main Stream Media (particularly the English media) do? Near zero debates on this topic; near zero coverage on how this mission can be made a success. How many programs have you seen that show how this program is succeeding or failing? For example, the Telugu media has enthusiastically picked on this campaign. They cover both the positive and negative – serving us a reminder that we have a long way to go before we pat ourselves. Almost every single government department has linked itself to Swacch Bharat. Almost every single school is incorporating this concept; yet our English media does not find this “showing the mirror” event as coverage-worthy.
Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao: From Haryana, one of the epi-center of female infanticide, the Prime Minister showed us the mirror. Neither mincing any words nor trying to sound political/diplomatic, the Prime Minister showed us the mirror. He exhorted us to get rid of this sick mentality that a girl child should die because she will grow up to be a burden on the family. He launched this special program, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao. What can be a bigger acknowledgement of the crisis we face?
What does the English media do? Give the standard coverage to this program, and then ignore! No detailed debates; no details that talk about the mentality prevailing in various parts of the country; no discussion on ways to improve this pathetic scenario. Miraculously though, a documentary viewing will show us the mirror and cure the society of all its ills.
When the Prime Minister spoke about governance, implementation, and nuances
The Prime Minister gave two significant speeches last week. One in the Lok Sabha; the other in theRajya Sabha. He spoke about a variety of topics related to governance and implementation progress. He even listed out statistics to prove his claim. Not a single English media outlet highlighted these. Not a single media talked about these statistics. They were interested in his “Our religion is India First” comment more than substantial issues of governance that he touched upon.
Governance is about simplifying rules; better synergy between government departments. Prime Minister gives a nice example – both the Railways and Highways belong to the government. More than 350 projects were pending in these 2 departments because they don’t work well together! This government made them sit together and clear most of the 350 projects – thereby easing the life of thousands (and perhaps lakhs) of commuters in daily life.
Governance is about using technology around the world to benefit a variety of sections in our country. The Prime Minister spoke about using Japanese research in stem cells to control sickle cell anaemia in MP; using school buildings during summer holidays for lab testing of soil quality; using Australian research on increasing yield of pulses; another Australian study increasing nutrition value in bananas etc.
Governance is about speedy implementation. The PM reeled out details on progress made in various projects. Near zero coverage on them in the English media. The PM told us what MNREGA is a prime example of – zero debate. Jan Dhan was a resounding success – zero discussions.
Congress party’s constant criticism (well lapped up by media too) is that the NDA is merely renaming awesome schemes of the UPA and trying to take credit. The PM gave a befitting reply – by not just naming the various schemes initiated by the NDA and renamed by the UPA, but also reminding us the unjust nature of this debate – are we really going to stick ourselves in this pointless debate on what’s in a name? The need of the hour is to debate the contents of the schemes; the nuances of the acts; the shortcomings of the implementations. Instead, we go round and round in circles debating frivolous things.
It is strongly recommended that you watch both the speeches (each nearly 70 minutes long) – it gives an insight into the implementation strategy of this government.
When the Prime Minister speaks his Mann ki Baat
Mann ki Baat program did not turn out to be a program in which the PM will merely tom-tom his government’s achievements. So far, the Prime Minister has spoken about very important topics that touch the lives of millions. No Prime Minister before this one has had such direct talk on topics as crucial as Drug Addiction; Examinations etc. Drug addiction is such a huge malice that pesters our society – can the English media show us 4-5 detailed articles that talked about this menace before or after the PM spoke to us? Can they shows us 4-5 30 minute documentaries that explain this menace and what solutions can be offered? They can’t – because they are all busy in searching for “noise”.
When the GoI generates whopping revenues through transparent auctions
Here’s a mind blowing statistic. The Supreme Court has finally given a nod to the auctioning of 204 coal mines. 18 of them have been auctioned thus far. A whopping Rs. 85,000 crore rupees have been received through these auctions. The second round of auctions have recently begun. At the time of writing this piece, the amount is hovering around Rs. 2,00,000/- crores! Can you imagine the scale of this once all 204 blocks have been auctioned? Can you imagine that a new government could come up with such a concrete action plan, submit it to SC, get its approval and start auctioning – all within a span of 8 months?
The CAG estimated the losses to the exchequer (because of UPAs disastrous policy) to be Rs. 1,86,000/- crores. Media also jumped onto this calling the CAG estimate as an exaggeration. And today, when such huge amounts are actually generated, there is a very little airtime dedicated to this on prime time; very little space dedicated to this in op-eds.
The 2G-3G spectrum auction is ongoing. At the time of writing this, the government has a guaranteed income of Rs. 1,00,000 crores. The bidding is yet to be completed. These are prime examples of excellent planning; near flawless executions; and above all, transparent transactions – something drastically amiss in previous regime.
Why are the Ordinances bad? No one knows the answer!
The Modi government issued 6 Ordinances after the winter 2014 parliament session ended – citing various reasons (including expiry of certain legal time limits). Suddenly there was a manufactured outrage on TV and English papers – opposition calls this Ordinance Raj! Ordinances will still have to be passed through Parliament within 6 months. Since then, I have been searching for real reasons for the opposition to oppose these ordinances. Newspapers like The Hindu keeps reminding us daily that the opposition is united beyond belief in stopping this Ordinance Raj. What is the exact objection? No one, practically no one tells us this! A few opposition members that manage to talk have enlightened us by saying that the opposition is to the idea of passing the ordinance and has nothing to do with the contents of the ordinance as such! The Land Ordinance is being touted as anti-farmer, with zero explanation as to how exactly it is anti-farmer; and what exactly is the loss! So now we have a discourse wherein the viewer/reader has zero clue on why the said ordinances are being opposed – and a pliant media that doesn’t take the opposition to task on this!
Issues focused by media so far
Communal disharmony (citing false “attacks” on churches in Delhi, random Ghar Wapsi events), RSS interference; Bans – (For example, Cow-Slaughter banned in 24 states across country, but #BeefBan topic relevant only today!); Danger to Freedom of Expression/Speech (citing threats to Perumal (brilliant explanation by blogger realitycheckind here) but keeping mum on AIB’s apology to Archibishop alone); Delhi poll results etc.
The quantum of coverage to the issues mentioned above beats all other issues discussed earlier, by leaps and bounds. Someone once said on twitter – Governance is not an event, but a process. One cannot excessively focus on a select few areas and start to judge the quality of governance. Our discourse needs to evolve beyond staple topics that focus on fringe elements. For example, The Hindu’s editorial last week has zero relevance to the happenings in the country last week – yet they chose to continue to harp on the need for the Prime Minister to control some random fringe elements.
Does this mean that everything the BJP/NDA government is doing is good?
Of course not! Quite clearly, their communication strategy is pretty bad. The intention of the article is to not to give a report card on what’s good or what’s not good about this government. The intention is to expose the pithy nature of discourse the media seems very keen to have – despite some good stuff happening in the government. At various places, I make the argument that the media has to tell us the shortcomings of the various points the PM and others have been making.
We do not need mere sermons from the media doyens itself on how the discourse is bad. If you have the maturity, then please change the standard of the discourse. Your viewers/readers deserve better.